The turkey probably tasted much better for the Raptor players heading into Thanksgiving with a WIN. After losing 4 of their last 5 games (the 1 win coming in OT against Denver, 1 heartbreaking loss in Sacramento currently being protested), the Raptors bounced back against the Houston Rockets Wednesday night with a 115-102 victory, thus improving to 9-6 on the season. It was a balanced team effort with DeMar DeRozan leading the team in scoring with 24 points and 9 assists while Jonas Valancuinas was a beast down low finishing with 15 points and 16 rebounds. Cory Joseph (17 points) and Terrence Ross (14 points) both scored in double figures in the same game for just the second time on the season. NBA assist-leading James Harden finished the game with a stellar 29 points, 6 rebounds, and 15 assists effort. Sharpshooter Ryan Anderson finished second in scoring for the Rockets with 13 points including three 3-pointers. DeMarre Carroll weathered the storm when the Houston Rockets appeared to be making a remarkable comeback. Despite trailing for the entire game and falling behind by 19 points in the 4th quarter, the Rockets trimmed the lead down to 7 with just under 3 minutes remaining in the game. DeMarre Carroll then scored 9 straight points for the Raptors in many ways including a few floaters, a corner 3, and a nice transition dunk.
The Raptors will cap off a 4-game road trip tonight when they visit Wisconsin to take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks (6-7). The Bucks last played Monday night after defeating the Orlando Magic led by Giannis’ triple double of 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. Last season the Raptors took care of business against the Bucks sweeping the season series 4-0. However, this is a MUCH different Bucks squad from last season. After locking in Giannis to a max deal, the Bucks added some veterans to their young squad including Jason Terry, Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic, and NBA Champion Matthew Dellavedova. Former-Duke and #2 overall pick Jabari Parker is showing he has the potential to be a star, averaging 19.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in his 3rd NBA season.
Both the Raptors and Bucks are not satisfied with their current records. It has been a tough start to the season and both teams hope to pick it up and find that consistent groove. Expect an end to end gritty match-up as both teams look to build off their previous victories. This could easily be an Eastern Conference playoff match-up come April. Let us outline the keys for the Raptors heading into tonight’s game:
The Bucks are a very lengthy team, with three 6’11 players, a 7’1 center, and two 6’9 forwards at the wing. While the Raptors certainly do not have the height to outjump the Bucks on the boards, they certainly have the athleticism to get a body in front of the players and BOX THEM OUT. The Bucks currently rank 11th in the league in rebounding efficiency, compared to the Raptors at 24th. Defensive possessions are only finished if you secure the rebound. Eliminating the extra possessions and garbage buckets should put the Raptors in a good position to win.
The recent losses for the Raptors usually come from collapses in the 4th Quarter. It’s very possible to out-play an opponent for 42 minutes only to lose the game in the final possessions. On the contrary, getting off to slow and sloppy starts is NEVER good either. Ball movement and smart shot selections are key to maintaining leads. Keep your foot on the gas pedal, remain focused on defense, and do not fade away from what is working. Forcing the Bucks big men to play defense (ie. Feeding JV, getting DeRozan to the free throw line) will only make life easier to stop their offensive flow. Having Kyle Lowry or Cory Joseph dribble the ball 22 seconds into the shot clock is usually not efficient (unless the shot goes in of course).
Digest that Thanksgiving Dinner and get back to doing what you do for a living. Despite losing the first two games of this road trip, winning the last 2 would be great momentum heading back home to Toronto for a 6 game home stand. It is also worth noting that the Eastern Conference has significantly improved from last season. The Raptors are currently tied for 3rd place with a 9-6 record and the Charlotte Hornets clawing at their heels. There is still a tonne of basketball left to play but every game matters at this point. Stay hungry, stay humble, stay focused.
Catch the game live at 8:00 p.m. Eastern!